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Monday, Sep 16, 2019

How opposition squandered support of regional parties in Rajya Sabha elections

For the past month, all calculations by the anti-NDA camp had indicated that it would need the BJD’s support to win the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman election. Yet, NCP was asked to reach out to Naveen Patnaik at the last moment. By the time he did, PM Modi had already spoken to him and secured his support.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2018 09:55 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Newly-elected deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha Harivansh Narayan Singh takes charge at his office at Parliament.
Newly-elected deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha Harivansh Narayan Singh takes charge at his office at Parliament.(PTI)

Opposition parties failed to get their act together to win the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman’s election in a a highly anticipated face-off with the ruling NDA on Thursday, and in the process squandered an opportunity to win a few additional votes in favour of their common candidate.

For the past month, all calculations by the anti-NDA camp had indicated that it would need the support of Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal to win the election. Yet, Nationalist Congress Party was asked to reach out to Panaik at the last moment.

By the time he did, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar had already spoken to Patnaik and secured the BJD’s support for NDA candidate Harivansh, who emerged victorious.

Other things went wrong, too. Opposition leaders were scheduled to hold a second meeting at 6pm on Tuesday. But at 3.30pm, Pawar met senior opposition leaders to say that neither Patnaik nor the Shiv Sena, a Bharatiya Janata Party ally, would support an opposition candidate.

Under the circumstances, Pawar was not keen on his party’s Vandana Chavan contesting the election as the Opposition nominee. Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party were reluctant to throw their hat in the ring.

Some leaders suggested that a candidate of the Telugu Desam Party, which pulled out of the NDA earlier this year, contest the post. “TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu had already communicated his willingness and CM Ramesh, who defeated Harivansh in the Public Accounts Committee election a day ago, was ready,” a senior opposition leader said on condition of anonymity.

The Congress didn’t warm up to the idea of a TDP candidate, according to two senior leaders. Had the TDP fielded a candidate, at least the Aam Admi Party would have voted in his favour and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi might have recalibrated its position, keeping in mind the Telugu factor, said another senior strategist. TDP and TRS are the ruling parties in the Telugu-speaking states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, respectively.

A floor manager from a regional party added, “A day ago, Ramesh was supported by the Opposition camp in the Public Accounts Committee election and he won it. The same formula could have been repeated here.”

To make matters worse, Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP said publicly that Congress president Rahul Gandhi must talk to the Delhi chief minister if the party wanted its support for the Congress nominee and joint opposition candidate BK Hariprasad. No opposition leader found Gandhi at fault for not responding to Kejriwal’s demand. Gandhi couldn’t have been expected to accept such a public demand, said one regional party leader.

“Other senior Congress leaders did try to speak to Kejriwal. But it didn’t help,” this person said. Some opposition leaders suggested that Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee speak to Patnaik, Kejriwal and Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao. But when Trinamool’s Rajya Sabha floor leader Derek O’Brien communicated the suggestion to Banerjee, she refused to get involved.

On Thursday, Hariprasad didn’t sound dejected hours after the poll result was out. “We might have lost the battle but we have won the war. The Opposition stood united while the election exposed the hidden agenda of the BJD. Also remember that no major UPA (United Progressive Alliance) partners ditched us,” he told HT.

A few leaders of the Congress, Samajwadi Party and Trinamool were not present to vote on Thursday. TDP, BSP, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal ensured they were in the house at full strength.

“Misa Bharti did a remarkable job. All of us thought that one particular RJD MP might slip away but she spoke to that MP separately and told him that this is a prestige fight. The MP voted for the Opposition,” said an opposition leader.

The Congress needs to take away one lesson from the election, said an analyst.

“If the Congress tries to impose its leadership, then opposition unity is bound to get disrupted. Also managing different Opposition parties is always a disadvantage against the BJP which is so good in handling elections,” said political activist and economist Prasenjit Bose.

First Published: Aug 09, 2018 23:47 IST